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Turf War

A band of hard-charging Lincoln Park activists scuttled the Latin School’s deal for priority use of a new soccer field on public parkland. But, in the end, did anyone really win?

(page 4 of 4)

THE HIGH COST OF FUN

The Chicago Park District argues that public-private partnership deals are increasingly necessary because of rising costs. Here, the average price tags for a range of common park district projects—in 2008 dollars, including design services, materials, labor, and construction services

Field house with gymnasium
$10 million

Artificial turf field
$1.2 million to $2 million

New park development
$750,000 to $1 million per acre

Basketball court
$25,000

Drinking fountain with plumbing
$15,000

Lighting (one light with pole)
$5,000

Benches
$2,500 each

Trees
$500 to $850 each

Playground construction
$600,000

Stadium lighting with utilities
$200,000

Dog park
$150,000 to $200,000

Source: Chicago Park District

When the 2008 school year—and soccer season—commenced, the Web site for the Latin School’s boys’ soccer team listed the location of their games as “the Lincoln Park fields just north of the school beyond the LaSalle underpass, south of Cannon Drive,” which are the fields adjacent to the construction site where Latin has practiced for years.

Now that the new field is complete, the school will have to apply for permits to use it, just as any other users will, and just as it always did before. Though Latin can no longer claim “priority” use, it’s unclear how many other schools or clubs will want to use the field, given its location so far east from the center of the city. Latin might very well end up with exactly the access they had hoped for, without paying for it as they had planned to. This is, in essence, the protesters’ worst nightmare.

“The Chicago Plan Commission voted 11-0 (with the park superintendent, Tim Mitchell, abstaining—he is a commissioner on this body) to approve the continued construction of the artificial turf soccer facility that was started as a result of a secret and illegal deal with the Latin School of Chicago,” Tresser wrote in an e-mail sent at 4:30 one Sunday morning. “. . . Our one inch thick binder containing our objections sat unread on their desks. What a joke. WE ARE NOT DONE FIGHTING. WE EXPECT TO RETURN TO COURT.” In late September, Protect Our Parks filed a lawsuit to stop payment to Latin for a deal that, in their words, “amounts to an illegal no-bid contract.” In October, the group sued to halt the installation of the artificial turf, saying that the chemicals contained in it posed a health hazard to young children.

So at the beginning of this year’s season, with the field still under construction and the legal skirmishes ongoing, the Latin School boys’ soccer team was back to playing on Lincoln Park’s other artificial turf field, off of Lake Shore Drive at Montrose. On a crisp fall afternoon, they had the field to themselves: Their scheduled opponents, Guerin Prep, of River Grove, had gone to the other field—the one everybody now thinks of as the Latin School soccer field—and, after looking around for the Latin players for about 45 minutes, gave up and went home. Up at Montrose, on a patch of synthetic grass that almost blends in with the park’s regular grass, the team ended up playing a scrimmage match among themselves, a move that somehow evoked Latin’s position throughout the whole soccer war: They just couldn’t lose.

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